Nov 14, 2014 8:29 AM

France: Why did the big cat cross the road?

The Associated Press

MONTEVRAIN, France (AP) A big, wild cat maybe a tiger, or maybe something less fearsome crossed a major highway and slinked past a gas station near Disneyland Paris on Friday, eluding 200 French police and military forces trying to hunt it down.

A helicopter buzzed over the woods east of Paris and a dozen police vehicles lined a grassy area where the feline was spotted early Friday, after a day of intense searches failed to capture it.

"He was also seen by truck drivers on the road," Montevrain Mayor Christian Robache said.

The animal's origins and species remain a mystery.

Experts from the National Office of Hunting and Wild Animals have determined that it is a feline that does not appear to be a tiger, "but we don't know for sure its race," according to an official at the Seine-et-Marne regional administration.

The experts are basing their assessment on tracks spotted Thursday and Friday in the Seine-et-Marne region east of Paris, the official said.

The official was not authorized to be publicly named according to administration policy. The hunting office could not be reached for comment.

Police officers guarded a school Friday morning as children arrived for class in Montevrain, the French town where the animal was first seen near a parking lot Thursday.

Tracks were spotted Friday morning near the A4 highway between the towns of Bussy-Saint-Georges and Ferrieres-en-Brie, and the search for the animal was concentrated on that area.

The regional administration asked drivers to take "the greatest precautions" on the highway, a major artery between Paris and eastern France.

The tracks were found eight kilometers (five miles) from where the big cat was initially seen, on the other side of the highway.

Authorities warned nearby residents to stay in cars instead of walking on foot and especially to avoid walks in the woods. A Total gas station near the sighting was briefly closed.

Both sites where the animal or its tracks were seen are about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Disneyland Paris, one of Europe's top tourist destinations. The operator of the theme park says it isn't taking any special precautions because the loose animal isn't deemed a threat. Disneyland Paris is surrounded by high walls to keep out intruders.

A wild cat animal park in the region, the Parc des Felins, said none of its cats is missing.

French tiger trainer Thierry Le Portier told BFM television that if the feline was raised by its mother it would be more distrustful and tougher to catch. Raised by humans, it would be less distrustful but no less dangerous.

"It can remain in hiding for a long time," he said, adding that it's "no problem" if the cat goes without eating for up to four days.

Some tweets suggested that the tracks belonged to a big dog, not a cat, but the head of the Paris regional Wolfcatcher Society, Robert Picaud, insisted the tracks could not have been falsified.

"It is clear that here is a feline walking around," he said.


Angela Charlton in Paris and Thibault Camus in Ferrieres-en-Brie contributed to this report.


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